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Cave Camping

My son’s troop has an upcoming camping trip that will be held in a cave complex. They will not pitch tents, but will use the cave as shelter. Would this trip count as camping nights for OA, rank advancement or the Camping MB? Our Troop’s initial thought is no because although we’ll have a fire and sleep on the ground, we’re not under the stars, but we wanted to get more input.

Thanks in advance for you input!

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You are not in an artificial permenant structure (ie a house, cabin, or vehicle). You are out sleeping in nature. I would say it counts.


I agree with @kevinwindisch here. I think that “under the stars” actually means not on a man made structure, or rather, directly in nature. I think that in a cave satisfies that.

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For Order of the Arrow eligibility: The Scoutmaster decides whether or not the nights of camping count towards OA eligibility or not. For example: some Scoutmasters count cabin camping for OA eligibility, but other Scoutmasters do not. This would be a similar situation where the Scoutmaster decides.

For rank advancement, it would count as a troop activity, but I do not think it would count as a campout, because Second Class / First Class requirement 1a. both say:

…On campouts, spend the night in a tent that you pitch or other structure that you help erect, such as a lean-to, snow cave, or tepee.

No tent or other structure is being erected here by the Scouts.

For the camping merit badge: The BSA has put out some guidance, although caves are not mentioned. Ultimately, the Scout’s camping merit badge counselor (MBC) decides. Different camping MBCs might reach different conclusions. One MBC might decide that they are not sleeping under a man-made building / structure, so it counts. Another MBC might decide that it’s basically the same as sleeping under a building / shelter, so it doesn’t count (not under the sky or in a tent pitched by the Scouts).

Scouting Magazine: Ask the Expert: What is (and what isn’t) a camping night for the Camping MB?


I see no problem in counting a night cave camping for that. It’s not specifically mentioned, but I believe that it is in alignment with the intent. I don’t think we’re modifying the requirements… ??? would like to get an official answer.

Both a camping MBC and former Scoutmaster that I look to as my mentor as a SM said they would count camping in a cave for the Camping MB. I did not ask about 1st & 2nd class requirements. My troop is camping in a cave next month so I will probably follow up with them again.

Beyond any requirements camping in a cave is beyond awesome. Think about this…if your youth was not in scouting would that type of thing happen on own…

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Another question - Is this a tame cave or a wild cave?

Tame being a developed cave with tours. If you are sleeping in the lunchroom, with lights, power, conditioned air, tables and chairs, cupboards, etc., then it seems to be in a building, even if the walls are stone.

The opposite is a wild cave, with no official development. No paid tour staff, no developed trails, no floors modified to allow level walking. Then you are in nature’s wild.

Somewhere in between is the transition from “in a building” to “in the wild”.

But however it turns out, have a good time and make lots of memories.


A “tamed cave” sounds like a tragedy.

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I concur with @DougWright, but without resorting “tame” vs. “wild”.

The bottom line for camping MB: what is the scout doing to prepare shelter? Is he/she selecting a site that won’t disrupt water flow or disturb resident animals, that will be comfortable, but won’t let out unnecessary light pollution, etc …, and has he/she made a plan for waste management?
Or, has that all been prepared for the scouts in advance?

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There are differences between the Camping merit badge requirements and the Second Class / First Class campout requirements.

Camping merit badge
9. Show experience in camping by doing the following:
(a) Camp a total of at least 20 nights at designated Scouting activities or events. One long-term camping experience of up to six consecutive nights maybe applied toward this requirement. Sleep each night under the sky or in a tent you have pitched. If the camp provides a tent that has already been pitched, you need not pitch your own tent.

The BSA’s program / advancement team has provided some additional guidance (Ask the Expert: What is (and what isn’t) a camping night for the Camping MB?) on what qualifies as a night of camping for purposes of the Camping merit badge:

“The intent of the requirement is to camp overnight in a tent or under the stars,” LoVecchio says. “This means sleeping overnight in building/structure does not meet the intent of the requirement.”

Is sleeping in a cave the same as sleeping in a building / structure? Or is it more similar to sleeping “under the sky”? Does it make a difference that the structure (caves) were made by nature - not man-made? Is the intent of the requirement to ensure that the Scouts have some kind of exposure to the elements (possibility of getting rained on, changes in temperature, insects, etc.)? This is why I think that different Merit Badge Counselors might reasonably come to different conclusions. I recommend consulting with your district / council Advancement Chair for advice.

The requirements for Second Class / First Class 1a. are different:

…On campouts, spend the night in a tent that you pitch or other structure that you help erect, such as a lean-to, snow cave, or tepee.

The intent of Second Class / First Class requirement 1a. seems to be to require Scouts to gain some experience in pitching tents or erecting some kind of shelter. According to the original poster, the Scouts are not pitching tents or erecting other structures, so sleeping in caves would not appear to qualify as a “campout” for purposes of SC / FC requirement 1a. However, it would still count as a troop or patrol “activity”.

I know of a Troop that does this in connection with fulfilling the requirements for the “Polar Bear”. Certainly the Scout love it as well. Thinking out of the box generates a lot of enthusiasm for Scouting!

I’d agree that the 1st Class req is intended to have them learn to set up a camp. However, for Camping MB I’d say that a cave is not much different than camping under a very dense tree. Can’t see the sky from there.
As Doug points out there can be differences in what is in the cave. If it’s the same as going into a building then I’d say no.
I’m an old fart and don’t really like ‘camping’ that includes catered camping, where the tents are already set up and the food is cooked by someone else. I have a hard time seeing that as any form of camping, more of a dude ranch. But, someone says it counts. Since that counts, I’d weigh catered camping against the cave and use that as a bare minimum experience to compare with.

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